Discovering “La Ciudad Perdida”

In the 800s AD, a city was created to hide from the Spanish, high up in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountain Range. This city grew to be about 75 acres and homed approximately 4,000 Tairona natives. It was eventually abandoned in the 1600s, before it could be conquered by the Spanish. The city remained “lost” for a long time; only descendants of the Tairona Indians knew about and visited the city. There are three descendant groups of the Tairona Indians that still remain in the mountains today; the Wiwas, Kogis, and Arhuacos. It wasn’t until 1972 that the city was “found”, by treasure robbers. These robbers stole everything not part of the ground from the lost city. The remains include about 170 stone terraces which mark the locations of homes and ritual sites. Since the 1980s, people from all over the world have been traveling to Santa Marta to hike 2-3 days into the rainforest (and 2 days back), to discover this mysterious city for themselves.

One of the perks of my job is the holiday break between Christmas and New Years. With two weeks off in December/January, this was the perfect time to experience La Ciudad Perdida. We wanted to escape the cold in Midwest, USA, and hike during the dry season (Dec-Mar). After quick internet research, my husband and I found a company called G Adventures that offers a group 5 day trek to Cuidad Perdida (The Lost City) combined with a nights stay in Santa Marta before and after the hike. The group size is about 15 people plus two guides, a Colombian guide employed by G Adventures and an indigenous guide, and a cook. This trek is all inclusive, so no need to worry about sleeping arrangements or food. The sleeping arrangements are hammocks and bunk beds at three different campsites along the trail, and three meals are provided each day.

We had some terrible luck with travel and unfortunately it took us many flight re-bookings and 44 hours of travel to reach Santa Marta. But, we made it, and the beauty of this city made us quickly forget what we had been through!

Landing in Simon Bolivar International Airport

Unfortunately we lost our extra time in Santa Marta due to the flight mishaps, and we almost missed the hike completely. Luckily we were able to get in touch with our guide (Leo) who agreed to begin the trek two hours later, in order to allow time for our arrival. So when we landed, we immediately rushed to the joining hotel to meet our group.

The trail begins in a small village, called Machete, roughly an hour into the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountain Range; so our group split up into a truck and a range rover, to head into the mountains. We have lunch in Machete before beginning the trek.

Wondering what/how we packed? Click here for a list of items to pack for multi-day jungle hikes.

We start the trail just before 2pm and have roughly 4 hours ahead of us to reach the first campsite, Camp Adan. My husband and I are exhausted from the long travel hours, and the first portion of the trail shows no mercy. There are many steep inclines, and I feel like keeling over. Not to mention the temperature is in the high 90s (F). The views are incredible though, which makes these tough ascents easier to manage.

There is a little hut along the way where we can purchase Gatorade and waters, which was a lovely surprise.

And the group stops for a fresh fruit break midway to Camp Adan.

Part of our group

We reach Camp Adan just before sunset, which gives us minimal time to wash off in the river before dark. The river is freezing so I don’t mind washing off quickly and then heading back. After dinner, we enjoy some beers and a few games of cards, before getting to bed. Tonight we are sleeping in hammocks, and I am excited for much needed rest.

Day 2 is a more relaxed day as we are hiking only two hours to the second campsite, Camp Wiwa.

Camp Wiwa

For the remainder of the day, we swim in the swimming hole, and then come back so our indigenous guide and his family, Alberto, Daniela, and Katia, can teach us about mochila making, cacao plants, and picking coco leaves. They are all wearing white to represent the purity of nature. The other indigenous groups wear white as well. Tomorrow will be a long day, and we are to head out just as the sun is rising.

Alberto, Daniela, y Katia

On day 3 of the hike, we hike about six hours to the third campsite, El Paraiso (“Paradise”). By beginning at sunrise, we will arrive at Paraiso in time for lunch. Katia hikes with us today, as we move deeper into the jungle. It is fun to have her with us as she points out all the cacao fruits, Banana plants, and butterflies. Today’s hike takes us by a Kogi village and includes river crossings and beautiful mountainous views.

Rio Buritaca

Finding beautiful flores for Katia’s hair

As planned, we reached Camp Paraiso just before lunch. Since Camp Paraiso is less than a mile away from Ciudad Perdida, Leo offers our group the opportunity to go there today, after lunch, to avoid the crowd that arrives in the mornings. Everyone in our group agrees to make the final trek to Ciudad Perdida today after lunch.

View from our beds at Camp Paraiso

There is a quick walk from Camp Paraiso to the beginning of 1200 stone stairs which lead you up to Ciudad Perdida. The walk up the steps aren’t easy and we take our time.

When we reach the lower level, we stop off to rest and perform a ritual around one of the stone circles. Our indigenous guide gives us each coco leaves to place in the middle of the circle as our offerings. Then we all walk the ring of stones, and make a wish. Leo shows us more stone circles, and what was once a jail.

And the higher we climb, the more impressive the views become.

We’ve made it to the top of Ciudad Perdida, where you get a great view of the terraces and surrounding mountains. It is incredible to think of this place 1200 years ago.

Day 4 of the trek takes us back to Camp Wiwa. Katia stays hiking with us and helps us point out things we missed the first time. Like this massive bamboo tree!

And finally, day 5 of the trek brings us from Camp Wiwa all the way back to Machete. Its a long day, with very little flat ground and we are greeted with a quick rain shower. Hiking in muddy conditions is much harder and I am immediately thankful we didn’t experience any rain until now. Although the cloudy skies which gently lay over part of the mountain ranges provide great photo opportunities.

When reaching Machete, I feel a great sense of accomplishment, and our group comes together for a celebratory lunch, before heading back to Santa Marta. Saying goodbye Alberto, Daniela, and Katia was bittersweet, and I was very thankful for our time with them. I learned so much on this trek and am very thankful for this experience.

Have you been on any multi-day treks? If so, which one is your favorite?

18 Comments

    1. Did you do your trek with G Adventures?! I really like them, though they are a bit pricey. How long were you on the Inca Trail? I bet it was amazing!

    1. Thanks Natalie! Sleeping in a hammock was more comfortable than I thought. They were a pretty good size and had a mosquito net over the top. The only thing was making sure you don’t bump into your neighbor 🙂

  1. Hi, Im planning to do this trek soon so this post was really helpful! could you help me with a few questions?
    How hard was the hike? is there lots of uphill parts? what condition are the paths in? I am not fit but the scenery looks so beautiful I want to make myself do this!
    Do you have to go as a tour or can you go independently?
    did you need to take camping equipment or did the campsites provide tents etc?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Hannah, Im happy to hear you found this post helpful! The hike wasn’t terrible, but there are alot of up and downhill parts. You can go at your own pace though so no worries. The paths are paved well. And the scenery is absolutely beautiful so taking your time can make this journey even better! Yes, you need to book a tour. I suggest wiwa tours for cheap rates. No need to take camping equipment, there are hammocks and bunk beds provided for sleeping. If you have any more questions please dont hesitate to ask! I hope you decide to make the hike! ?

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